Eco-anxiety, defined by the American Psychological Association in 2017 as "a chronic fear of environmental doom”, has been a consistent theme amongst young people for the last few years, with many galvanised to make strides towards more sustainable living in both their personal lives and beyond.
But as a study by Monash University revealed last year, our eco-anxiety has reached new heights, with Australians reportedly almost three times more concerned about climate change than the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And it’s all been compounded by the United Nations’ AR6 Climate Change 2021 report. The recently published report painted a grim picture of global warming’s continued threat, revealing the confronting truth that humans have caused ‘irreversible’ damage to the planet. For many of us, the sheer amount of environmental concerns worth being invested in weigh heavy, with feelings of futility rising with the climate.
If you feel your eco-standards slipping further and further, you could be suffering the modern affliction of ‘eco-fatigue’.
What is eco-fatigue?
Eco-fatigue is the next step after eco-anxiety. Only, it’s more of a regression than a step forward. It refers to the nihilistic feeling that the planet is too far gone, and that our eco-efforts thus don't really matter. This might manifest in a slow decline in recycling, disregard for single-use plastics or increased consumption of things like fast fashion that we’d otherwise try to avoid.
It largely comes down to a phenomenon known as 'learned helplessness'. Coined by American psychologist Martin Seligman in the late '60s, learned helplessness is a state of mind that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they cease trying — which can then perpetuate feelings of guilt and strained mental health.
And with so much going on in the world, and an overload of information out there, it's completely understandable that one may get a little dizzy from the enormity of the climate crisis and what it means for us.
As a 2017 study revealed, just 100 companies produce 71% of global emissions. Facts like these can make us feel the small steps we take as individuals are irrelevant. We've ditched the plastic bags, straws and makeup wipes, but what does it matter if our impact is but a blip compared to these large conglomerates?
If you think you’re deep in the trenches, or even just on the verge of falling into, eco fatigue, you’re not alone and your efforts are certainly not in vain.
What can we do about it?
Endeavouring to tackle the climate crisis is overwhelming for anyone and we don't all need to possess Greta Thunberg levels of dedication. However, there are a few small but meaningful steps we can all take, read on for our tips to keep eco-fatigue at bay.
Know where your money is going
As we said, it’s ultimately large conglomerates that are having the most impact on climate change, and therefore it’s important that we look beyond what our purchases are to where our purchases are coming from. That way you can avoid the brands that don't align with your green values, and actively support those that do.
Adjust your plate
Diets are extremely personal, but it’s easy to get stuck in the rhythm of convenience meals and go-to recipes that may not be so kind to the planet. With a recent report finding that food production counts for nearly 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s worth trying to introduce some more veggie options into your week. How about meatless Mondays or swapping out one meal a day for a vegan alternative? You might be surprised at the world of options out there these days.
Keep doing your best
It sounds a little too simple, but it’s important to know that the small things you do — like putting in the effort to clean out that tub of peanut butter before recycling it and choosing the greener toilet paper that’s not as soft and more expensive — don’t count for nothing. So you don't drive a Hybrid or own a compost bin, that's okay, just maybe swap the car for some walking shoes some days and try to shop package-free where you can.
Go easy on yourself
Ultimately, there’s no use beating yourself up if your green living has understandably slipped up a bit over the past year. Try to focus on the present and don't get too bogged down with what's going to happen in the future when so much of it is out of our control. Eco-shaming doesn't help anyone. Yes, it's worthwhile to live in a way that promotes sustainability, but it's also good to keep things in perspective when it comes to what really makes the most impact.
Every bit counts, just don’t be hard on yourself if this year has caused some very understandable lapses.